Overview

The Alhambra, the 'red fort' on its rocky hill above Granada, with its fountained courts and gardens, and intricate decoration, has long been a byword for exotic and melancholy beauty. In a stimulating new book in the 'Wonders of the World' series Robert Irwin, Arabist and novelist, examines its engrossing and often mysterious history. Built by a bloody and threatened dynasty of Muslim Spain, it was preserved as a monument to the triumph of Christianity. Much of what we see is the invention of later generations. ...

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The Alhambra

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Overview

The Alhambra, the 'red fort' on its rocky hill above Granada, with its fountained courts and gardens, and intricate decoration, has long been a byword for exotic and melancholy beauty. In a stimulating new book in the 'Wonders of the World' series Robert Irwin, Arabist and novelist, examines its engrossing and often mysterious history. Built by a bloody and threatened dynasty of Muslim Spain, it was preserved as a monument to the triumph of Christianity. Much of what we see is the invention of later generations. Its highly sophisticated decoration is not just random but full of hidden meaning. Even its purpose - palace or theological college - is not always clear. Its influence on art, and on literature, orientalist painting and Granada cinemas, Washington Irving and Borges, has been significant. Robert Irwin enables us to understand that history fully. The Wonders of the World is a series of books that focuses on some of the world's most famous sites or monuments. Their names will be familiar to almost everyone: they have achieved iconic stature and are loaded with a fair amount of mythological baggage. These monuments have been the subject of many books over the centuries, but our aim, through the skill and stature of the writers, is to get something much more enlightening, stimulating, even controversial, than straightforward histories or guides.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The only Muslim palace to survive in the West, the Alhambra, a beautiful collection of buildings and gardens set against the mountain backdrop of Granada, has been fixed in travelers' imaginations since the 19th-century works of American novelist Washington Irving made the site famous. Unfortunately, much of what we know and think about it remains more romanticized fiction than fact. Here, Irwin (a novelist and noted Islamicist) helps set the record straight. As he explains, the Alhambra has been highly-and often inaccurately-reconstructed over the centuries, changing and expanding with the shifting notions of how this collection of buildings had originally been used. No matter how beautiful, he asserts, today the Alhambra is a mere shadow of its former glory, when it dripped with beautiful tapestries and exquisite carpets. Irwin's direct and witty style makes this slim volume a joy to read, and his chapter on the depiction of the Alhambra in Western art and literature is especially useful. With an excellent bibliographic essay; recommended for all libraries with travel or art history collections.-Olga B. Wise, Austin, TX Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Ruth Rendell
Robert Irwin writes beautifully and is dauntingly clever but the stunning thing about him is his originality.
Oleg Grabar
Irwin's book is a learned but entertaining companion for any visitor.
The Spectator - Doris Lessing
This book captures and conveys the mysterious attractions of the Alhambra.
Sunday Times - Malise Ruthven
[A] fascinating book.
The Guardian - Mark Cocker
Irwin's book is both a perfect introduction to the place and a first-rate account of its history.
The Prospect - Robin Banerji
Edward Said pointed out that in writing about the Arab world, authors always have an agenda. Perhaps Irwin has replaced a Romantic illusion about the Alhambra with one more attractive to the New Age. Irwin is, however, modest about the possibility of ever knowing what the Alhambra was for. And his agenda seems to be nothing more sinister than to get us to look once more and to marvel once again at something we only thought we knew.
The Independent on Sunday - Vera Rule
[A] delicious, tart monograph.
The Independent - Shusha Guppy
In this rich, concise contribution to the literature, Robert Irwin uses his vast knowledge of medieval Islam to illumine both myth and reality, history and imagination, without disenchanting the romantic reader...Having been to the Alhambra many times, after reading this wonderful book I wished to go back--and see it for the first time.
Daily Telegraph - Mirand France
A fascinating and very manageable guide. Irwin takes in the history of the Alhambra's inhabitants, its cultural importance to Westerners and to a new generation of Islamic writers.
Sunday Telegraph - Martin Gayford
It is...greatly to Robert Irwin's credit that he has written a book on the subject that is sensible, scholarly, astringent and witty. It is a fine addition to what promises to be an outstanding series on the world's great monuments.
Times Literary Supplement - William Dalrymple
In his remarkably concise, original and readable study, The Alhambra, Irwin deploys impressive scholarship to skewer many of the myths that have grown up around the beautiful palace complex of Nasirid Granada: 'legends, lies and honest mistakes are as much a part of the story of the Alhambra as is the factual record,' he writes. 'So are vandalism, inadequately researched and botched restoration work and distortions caused by the demands of the tourist trade.' It is these myths and distortions that Irwin sets about dismantling, a task he clearly enjoys...Irwin shows that the Alhambra has meant many different things to many different people. If the Victorians liked to see it as a symbol of Oriental luxury and debauchery, then many modern Arabs have seen it as a symbol of defeat, 'an icon of exile and loss.'
New York Sun - Eric Ormsby
The Alhambra is a succinct, witty, often acerbic compendium of facts, legends, and outright delusions about this Nasrid architectural masterpiece. He also manages, with style and flair, to convey a surprisingly rich store of detail on medieval Andalusian culture and life...He is the ideal companion: amusing, learned, curious, often eloquent...The Alhambra contains much precious detail drawn from the Arabic sources, historical as well as literary.
Newsweek
[Irwin] brings the majestic ruins to life.
The Spectator

This book captures and conveys the mysterious attractions of the Alhambra.
— Doris Lessing

Sunday Times

[A] fascinating book.
— Malise Ruthven

The Guardian

Irwin's book is both a perfect introduction to the place and a first-rate account of its history.
— Mark Cocker

The Prospect

Edward Said pointed out that in writing about the Arab world, authors always have an agenda. Perhaps Irwin has replaced a Romantic illusion about the Alhambra with one more attractive to the New Age. Irwin is, however, modest about the possibility of ever knowing what the Alhambra was for. And his agenda seems to be nothing more sinister than to get us to look once more and to marvel once again at something we only thought we knew.
— Robin Banerji

The Independent on Sunday

[A] delicious, tart monograph.
— Vera Rule

The Independent

In this rich, concise contribution to the literature, Robert Irwin uses his vast knowledge of medieval Islam to illumine both myth and reality, history and imagination, without disenchanting the romantic reader...Having been to the Alhambra many times, after reading this wonderful book I wished to go back—and see it for the first time.
— Shusha Guppy

Daily Telegraph

A fascinating and very manageable guide. Irwin takes in the history of the Alhambra's inhabitants, its cultural importance to Westerners and to a new generation of Islamic writers.
— Mirand France

Sunday Telegraph

It is...greatly to Robert Irwin's credit that he has written a book on the subject that is sensible, scholarly, astringent and witty. It is a fine addition to what promises to be an outstanding series on the world's great monuments.
— Martin Gayford

Times Literary Supplement

In his remarkably concise, original and readable study, The Alhambra, Irwin deploys impressive scholarship to skewer many of the myths that have grown up around the beautiful palace complex of Nasirid Granada: 'legends, lies and honest mistakes are as much a part of the story of the Alhambra as is the factual record,' he writes. 'So are vandalism, inadequately researched and botched restoration work and distortions caused by the demands of the tourist trade.' It is these myths and distortions that Irwin sets about dismantling, a task he clearly enjoys...Irwin shows that the Alhambra has meant many different things to many different people. If the Victorians liked to see it as a symbol of Oriental luxury and debauchery, then many modern Arabs have seen it as a symbol of defeat, 'an icon of exile and loss.'
— William Dalrymple

New York Sun

The Alhambra is a succinct, witty, often acerbic compendium of facts, legends, and outright delusions about this Nasrid architectural masterpiece. He also manages, with style and flair, to convey a surprisingly rich store of detail on medieval Andalusian culture and life...He is the ideal companion: amusing, learned, curious, often eloquent...The Alhambra contains much precious detail drawn from the Arabic sources, historical as well as literary.
— Eric Ormsby

Karen Gould
Robert Irwin has written a compact companion to the history, architectural features, and enduring attraction of the Alhambra. Although this book is in a small guidebook format, the text corrects many of the romantic myths about the Alhambra that most tourists encounter. This book is recommended as excellent reading for someone planning a visit to the Alhambra or for the armchair traveler…His thesis about the geometrical foundations of the design and the use of the Alhambra as 'a palace to think in' is persuasively argued.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781847650986
  • Publisher: Profile Books Limited
  • Publication date: 5/26/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 640,575
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Robert Irwin is a novelist, publisher, reviewer, Arabist and historian. He was formerly a lecturer in the Department of Mediaeval History in the University of St Andrews and he is currently a Senior Research Associate of the History Department of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. He has published seventeen books, of which six are novels. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Memoirs of a Dervish is published by Profile in 2011.


Robert Irwin lives in London. His fiction includes The Arabian Nightmare (1983) and Exquisite Corpse (1995). His many books and articles on Islamic subjects include The Arabian Nights: A Companion (1994) and Islamic Art (1997).
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